Heart of Darkness
by
Joseph Conrad

Part 1 out of 3








HEART OF DARKNESS




I

The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor with-
out a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood
had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound
down the river, the only thing for it was to come to
and wait for the turn of the tide.

The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like
the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the
offing the sea and the sky were welded together without
a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of
the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand
still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with
gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low
shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The
air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still
seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding mo-
tionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.

The Director of Companies was our captain and our
host. We four affectionately watched his back as he
stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole
river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He
resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness
personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not
out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within
the brooding gloom.

Between us there was, as I have already said some-
where, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts
together through long periods of separation, it had the
effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns--and
even convictions. The Lawyer--the best of old fellows
--had, because of his many years and many virtues, the
only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug.
The Accountant had brought out already a box of
dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones.
Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the
mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complex-
ion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his
arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled
an idol. The Director, satisfied the anchor had good
hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We
exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards there was
silence on board the yacht. For some reason or other
we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt medi-
tative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day
was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance.
The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck,
was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very
mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant
fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping
the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to
the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more
somber every minute, as if angered by the approach
of the sun.

And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the
sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a
dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to
go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that
gloom brooding over a crowd of men.

Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the
serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The
old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline
of day, after ages of good service done to the race that
peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of
a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth.
We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush
of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in
the august light of abiding memories. And indeed
nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes,
"followed the sea" with reverence and affection, than
to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower
reaches of the Thames. The tidal current runs to and
fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of
men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the
battles of the sea. It had known and served all the
men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis
Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and un-
titled--the great knights-errant of the sea. It had
borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing
in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning
with her round flanks full of treasure, to be visited by
the Queen's Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic
tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests
--and that never returned. It had known the ships and
the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Green-
wich, from Erith--the adventurers and the settlers;
kings' ships and the ships of men on 'Change; captains,
admirals, the dark "interlopers" of the Eastern trade,
and the commissioned "generals" of East India fleets.
Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone
out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the
torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers
of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had
not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of
an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed
of commonwealths, the germs of empires.

The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights
began to appear along the shore. The Chapman light-
house, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone
strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway--a
great stir of lights going up and going down. And
farther west on the upper reaches the place of the mon-
strous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a
brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the
stars.

"And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been
one of the dark places of the earth."

He was the only man of us who still "followed the
sea." The worst that could be said of him was that
he did not represent his class. He was a seaman, but he
was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may
so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the
stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them
--the ship; and so is their country--the sea. One ship
is very much like another, and the sea is always the same.
In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign
shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life,
glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a
slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mys-
terious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is
the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny.
For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or
a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the
secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the
secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a
direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within
the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical
(if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to
him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a
kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it
out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of
one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible
by the spectral illumination of moonshine.

His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was
just like Marlow. It was accepted in silence. No one
took the trouble to grunt even; and presently he said,
very slow--

"I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans
first came here, nineteen hundred years ago--the other
day. . . . Light came out of this river since--you
say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a
plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live
in the flicker--may it last as long as the old earth keeps
rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine
the feelings of a commander of a fine--what d'ye call
'em?--trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly
to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry;
put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries,--a
wonderful lot of handy men they must have been too--
used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month
or two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him
here--the very end of the world, a sea the color of lead,
a sky the color of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid
as a concertina--and going up this river with stores, or
orders, or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests,
savages,--precious little to eat fit for a civilized man,
nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine
here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp
lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay--
cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,--death
skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They
must have been dying like flies here. Oh yes--he did it.
Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking
much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what
he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were
men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was
cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to
the fleet at Ravenna by-and-by, if he had good friends
in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of
a decent young citizen in a toga--perhaps too much
dice, you know--coming out here in the train of some
prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his
fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods,
and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter
savagery, had closed round him,--all that mysterious
life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the
jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation
either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst
of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And
it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him.
The fascination of the abomination--you know.
Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the
powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate."

He paused.

"Mind," he began again, lifting one arm from the
elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his
legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha
preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-
flower--"Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this.
What saves us is efficiency--the devotion to efficiency.
But these chaps were not much account, really. They
were no colonists; their administration was merely a
squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were con-
querors, and for that you want only brute force--nothing
to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is
just an accident arising from the weakness of others.
They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what
was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggra-
vated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind
--as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The
conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking
it away from those who have a different complexion or
slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing
when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the
idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental
pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea
--something you can set up, and bow down before, and
offer a sacrifice to. . . ."

He broke off. Flames glided in the river, small green
flames, red flames, white flames, pursuing, overtaking,
joining, crossing each other--then separating slowly or
hastily. The traffic of the great city went on in the
deepening night upon the sleepless river. We looked
on, waiting patiently--there was nothing else to do till
the end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence,
when he said, in a hesitating voice, "I suppose you fel-
lows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a
bit," that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began
to run, to hear about one of Marlow's inconclusive ex-
periences.

"I don't want to bother you much with what hap-
pened to me personally," he began, showing in this re-
mark the weakness of many tellers of tales who seem
so often unaware of what their audience would best like
to hear; "yet to understand the effect of it on me you
ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I
went up that river to the place where I first met the
poor chap. It was the farthest point of navigation and
the culminating point of my experience. It seemed some-
how to throw a kind of light on everything about me--
and into my thoughts. It was somber enough too--and
pitiful--not extraordinary in any way--not very clear
either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw
a kind of light.

"I had then, as you remember, just returned to Lon-
don after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas--
a regular dose of the East--six years or so, and I was
loafing about, hindering you fellows in your work and
invading your homes, just as though I had got a
heavenly mission to civilize you. It was very fine for
a time, but after a bit I did get tired of resting. Then
I began to look for a ship--I should think the hardest
work on earth. But the ships wouldn't even look at me.
And I got tired of that game too.

"Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for
maps. I would look for hours at South America, or
Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories
of exploration. At that time there were many blank
spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked
particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that)
I would put my finger on it and say, When I grow up
I will go there. The North Pole was one of these places,
I remember. Well, I haven't been there yet, and shall
not try now. The glamour's off. Other places were
scattered about the Equator, and in every sort of lati-
tude all over the two hemispheres. I have been in some
of them, and . . . well, we won't talk about that. But
there was one yet--the biggest, the most blank, so to
speak--that I had a hankering after.

"True, by this time it was not a blank space any
more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers
and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space
of delightful mystery--a white patch for a boy to dream
gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But
there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river,
that you could see on the map, resembling an immense
snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at
rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost
in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map
of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would
a bird--a silly little bird. Then I remembered there was
a big concern, a Company for trade on that river. Dash
it all! I thought to myself, they can't trade without
using some kind of craft on that lot of fresh water--
steamboats! Why shouldn't I try to get charge of
one. I went on along Fleet Street, but could not shake
off the idea. The snake had charmed me.

"You understand it was a Continental concern, that
Trading society; but I have a lot of relations living
on the Continent, because it's cheap and not so nasty
as it looks, they say.

"I am sorry to own I began to worry them. This was
already a fresh departure for me. I was not used to
get things that way, you know. I always went my own
road and on my own legs where I had a mind to go. I
wouldn't have believed it of myself; but, then--you see
--I felt somehow I must get there by hook or by crook.
So I worried them. The men said 'My dear fellow,' and
did nothing. Then--would you believe it?--I tried the
women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work--to
get a job. Heavens! Well, you see, the notion drove
me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote:
'It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, any-
thing for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife
of a very high personage in the Administration, and
also a man who has lots of influence with,' &c., &c. She
was determined to make no end of fuss to get me ap-
pointed skipper of a river steamboat, if such was my
fancy.

"I got my appointment--of course; and I got it very
quick. It appears the Company had received news that
one of their captains had been killed in a scuffle with
the natives. This was my chance, and it made me the
more anxious to go. It was only months and months
afterwards, when I made the attempt to recover what
was left of the body, that I heard the original quarrel
arose from a misunderstanding about some hens. Yes,
two black hens. Fresleven--that was the fellow's name,
a Dane--thought himself wronged somehow in the bar-
gain, so he went ashore and started to hammer the chief
of the village with a stick. Oh, it didn't surprise me
in the least to hear this, and at the same time to be told
that Fresleven was the gentlest, quietest creature that
ever walked on two legs. No doubt he was; but he
had been a couple of years already out there engaged
in the noble cause, you know, and he probably felt the
need at last of asserting his self-respect in some way.
Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while
a big crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck,
till some man,--I was told the chief's son,--in despera-
tion at hearing the old chap yell, made a tentative jab
with a spear at the white man--and of course it went
quite easy between the shoulder-blades. Then the whole
population cleared into the forest, expecting all kinds
of calamities to happen, while, on the other hand, the
steamer Fresleven commanded left also in a bad panic,
in charge of the engineer, I believe. Afterwards nobody
seemed to trouble much about Fresleven's remains, till
I got out and stepped into his shoes. I couldn't let
it rest, though; but when an opportunity offered at last
to meet my predecessor, the grass growing through his
ribs was tall enough to hide his bones. They were all
there. The supernatural being had not been touched
after he fell. And the village was deserted, the huts
gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen en-
closures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough. The
people had vanished. Mad terror had scattered them,
men, women, and children, through the bush, and they
had never returned. What became of the hens I don't
know either. I should think the cause of progress got
them, anyhow. However, through this glorious affair I
got my appointment, before I had fairly begun to hope
for it.

"I flew around like mad to get ready, and before forty-
eight hours I was crossing the Channel to show myself
to my employers, and sign the contract. In a very few
hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of
a whited sepulcher. Prejudice no doubt. I had no
difficulty in finding the Company's offices. It was the
biggest thing in the town, and everybody I met was
full of it. They were going to run an over-sea empire,
and make no end of coin by trade.

"A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high
houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds, a dead
silence, grass sprouting between the stones, imposing
carriage archways right and left, immense double doors
standing ponderously ajar. I slipped through one of
these cracks, went up a swept and ungarnished staircase,
as arid as a desert, and opened the first door I came to.
Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-
bottomed chairs, knitting black wool. The slim one got
up and walked straight at me--still knitting with down-
cast eyes--and only just as I began to think of getting
out of her way, as you would for a somnambulist, stood
still, and looked up. Her dress was as plain as an um-
brella-cover, and she turned round without a word and
preceded me into a waiting-room. I gave my name, and
looked about. Deal table in the middle, plain chairs all
round the walls, on one end a large shining map, marked
with all the colors of a rainbow. There was a vast
amount of red--good to see at any time, because one
knows that some real work is done in there, a deuce of a
lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and, on the
East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly
pioneers of progress drink the jolly lager-beer. How-
ever, I wasn't going into any of these. I was going
into the yellow. Dead in the center. And the river
was there--fascinating--deadly--like a snake. Ough!
A door opened, a white-haired secretarial head, but
wearing a compassionate expression, appeared, and a
skinny forefinger beckoned me into the sanctuary. Its
light was dim, and a heavy writing-desk squatted in the
middle. From behind that structure came out an im-
pression of pale plumpness in a frock-coat. The great
man himself. He was five feet six, I should judge, and
had his grip on the handle-end of ever so many millions.
He shook hands, I fancy, murmured vaguely, was satis-
fied with my French. Bon voyage.

"In about forty-five seconds I found myself again in
the waiting-room with the compassionate secretary, who,
full of desolation and sympathy, made me sign some
document. I believe I undertook amongst other things
not to disclose any trade secrets. Well, I am not going
to.

"I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am
not used to such ceremonies, and there was something
ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though I
had been let into some conspiracy--I don't know--some-
thing not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In
the outer room the two women knitted black wool fever-
ishly. People were arriving, and the younger one was
walking back and forth introducing them. The old
one sat on her chair. Her flat cloth slippers were
propped up on a foot-warmer, and a cat reposed on
her lap. She wore a starched white affair on her head,
had a wart on one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles
hung on the tip of her nose. She glanced at me above
the glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of that
look troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheery
countenances were being piloted over, and she threw at
them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She
seemed to know all about them and about me too. An
eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and
fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two,
guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as
for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continu-
ously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery
and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old
knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many
of those she looked at ever saw her again--not half,
by a long way.

"There was yet a visit to the doctor. 'A simple for-
mality,' assured me the secretary, with an air of taking
an immense part in all my sorrows. Accordingly a
young chap wearing his hat over the left eyebrow, some
clerk I suppose,--there must have been clerks in the busi-
ness, though the house was as still as a house in a city
of the dead,--came from somewhere up-stairs, and led
me forth. He was shabby and careless, with ink-stains
on the sleeves of his jacket, and his cravat was large and
billowy, under a chin shaped like the toe of an old boot.
It was a little too early for the doctor, so I proposed
a drink, and thereupon he developed a vein of joviality.
As we sat over our vermouths he glorified the Company's
business, and by-and-by I expressed casually my sur-
prise at him not going out there. He became very cool
and collected all at once. 'I am not such a fool as I
look, quoth Plato to his disciples,' he said sententiously,
emptied his glass with great resolution, and we rose.

"The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of
something else the while. 'Good, good for there,' he
mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me
whether I would let him measure my head. Rather sur-
prised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like calipers
and got the dimensions back and front and every way,
taking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man
in a threadbare coat like a gaberdine, with his feet in
slippers, and I thought him a harmless fool. 'I always
ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the
crania of those going out there,' he said. 'And when
they come back too?' I asked. "Oh, I never see them,'
he remarked; 'and, moreover, the changes take place in-
side, you know.' He smiled, as if at some quiet joke.
'So you are going out there. Famous. Interesting too.'
He gave me a searching glance, and made another note.
'Ever any madness in your family?' he asked, in a
matter-of-fact tone. I felt very annoyed. 'Is that
question in the interests of science too?' 'It would be,'
he said, without taking notice of my irritation, 'interest-
ing for science to watch the mental changes of individ-
uals, on the spot, but . . .' 'Are you an alienist?' I
interrupted. 'Every doctor should be--a little,' an-
swered that original, imperturbably. 'I have a little
theory which you Messieurs who go out there must help
me to prove. This is my share in the advantages my
country shall reap from the possession of such a mag-
nificent dependency. The mere wealth I leave to others.
Pardon my questions, but you are the first Englishman
coming under my observation. . . .' I hastened to
assure him I was not in the least typical. 'If I were,'
said I, 'I wouldn't be talking like this with you.' 'What
you say is rather profound, and probably erroneous,' he
said, with a laugh. 'Avoid irritation more than expos-
ure to the sun. Adieu. How do you English say, eh?
Good-by. Ah! Good-by. Adieu. In the tropics one
must before everything keep calm.' . . . He lifted a
warning forefinger. . . . 'Du calme, du calme.
Adieu.'

"One thing more remained to do--say good-by to
my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a
cup of tea--the last decent cup of tea for many days
--and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you
would expect a lady's drawing-room to look, we had a
long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these
confidences it became quite plain to me I had been repre-
sented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness
knows to how many more people besides, as an excep-
tional and gifted creature--a piece of good fortune for
the Company--a man you don't get hold of every day.
Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a
two-penny-halfpenny river-steamboat with a penny
whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one
of the Workers, with a capital--you know. Something
like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort
of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose
in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent
woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got
carried off her feet. She talked about 'weaning those
ignorant millions from their horrid ways,' till, upon my
word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to
hint that the Company was run for profit.

"'You forget, dear Charlie, that the laborer is worthy
of his hire,' she said, brightly. It's queer how out of
touch with truth women are. They live in a world of
their own, and there had never been anything like it,
and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and
if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before
the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have
been living contentedly with ever since the day of cre-
ation would start up and knock the whole thing over.

"After this I got embraced, told to wear flannel, be
sure to write often, and so on--and I left. In the street
--I don't know why--a queer feeling came to me that I
was an impostor. Odd thing that I, who used to clear
out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours'
notice, with less thought than most men give to the cross-
ing of a street, had a moment--I won't say of hesitation,
but of startled pause, before this commonplace affair.
The best way I can explain it to you is by saying that,
for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going
to the center of a continent, I were about to set off for
the center of the earth.

"I left in a French steamer, and she called in every
blamed port they have out there, for, as far as I could
see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and custom-
house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a coast
as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma.
There it is before you--smiling, frowning, inviting,
grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with
an air of whispering, Come and find out. This one was
almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an
aspect of monotonous grimness. The edge of a colossal
jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed
with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far
away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a
creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed to
glisten and drip with steam. Here and there grayish-
whitish specks showed up, clustered inside the white surf,
with a flag flying above them perhaps. Settlements some
centuries old, and still no bigger than pin-heads on the
untouched expanse of their background. We pounded
along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-
house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-for-
saken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in
it; landed more soldiers--to take care of the custom-
house clerks, presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned
in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed
particularly to care. They were just flung out there,
and on we went. Every day the coast looked the same,
as though we had not moved; but we passed various
places--trading places--with names like Gran' Bassam
Little Popo, names that seemed to belong to some sordid
farce acted in front of a sinister backcloth. The idle-
ness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men
with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and lan-
guid sea, the uniform somberness of the coast, seemed
to keep me away from the truth of things, within the
toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. The voice of
the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure,
like the speech of a brother. It was something natural,
that had its reason, that had a meaning. Now and then
a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact
with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You
could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glisten-
ing. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with
perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks--these
chaps; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an in-
tense energy of movement, that was as natural and true
as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse
for being there. They were a great comfort to look at.
For a time I would feel I belonged still to a world of
straightforward facts; but the feeling would not last
long. Something would turn up to scare it away. Once,
I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off
the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she
was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one
of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped
limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long eight-inch guns
stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell
swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin
masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water,
there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent.
Pop, would go one of the eight-inch guns; a small flame
would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would dis-
appear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech--
and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There
was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of
lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissi-
pated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there
was a camp of natives--he called them enemies!--hidden
out of sight somewhere.

"We gave her her letters (I heard the men in that
lonely ship were dying of fever at the rate of three
a day) and went on. We called at some more places with
farcical names, where the merry dance of death and
trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an
overheated catacomb; all along the formless coast bor-
dered by dangerous surf, as if Nature herself had tried
to ward off intruders; in and out of rivers, streams of
death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose
waters, thickened into slime, invaded the contorted man-
groves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of
an impotent despair. Nowhere did we stop long enough
to get a particularized impression, but the general sense
of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was
like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for night-
mares.

"It was upward of thirty days before I saw the mouth
of the big river. We anchored off the seat of the gov-
ernment. But my work would not begin till some two
hundred miles farther on. So as soon as I could I made
a start for a place thirty miles higher up.

"I had my passage on a little sea-going steamer. Her
captain was a Swede, and knowing me for a seaman,
invited me on the bridge. He was a young man, lean,
fair, and morose, with lanky hair and a shuffling gait.
As we left the miserable little wharf, he tossed his head
contemptuously at the shore. 'Been living there?' he
asked. I said, 'Yes.' 'Fine lot these government chaps
--are they not?' he went on, speaking English with
great precision and considerable bitterness. 'It is funny
what some people will do for a few francs a month. I
wonder what becomes of that kind when it goes up coun-
try?' I said to him I expected to see that soon. 'So-o-o!'
he exclaimed. He shuffled athwart, keeping one eye
ahead vigilantly. 'Don't be too sure,' he continued.
'The other day I took up a man who hanged himself
on the road. He was a Swede, too.' 'Hanged himself!
Why, in God's name?' I cried. He kept on looking out
watchfully. 'Who knows? The sun too much for him,
or the country perhaps.'

"At last we opened a reach. A rocky cliff appeared,
mounds of turned-up earth by the shore, houses on a
hill, others, with iron roofs, amongst a waste of excava-
tions, or hanging to the declivity. A continuous noise
of the rapids above hovered over this scene of inhabited
devastation. A lot of people, mostly black and naked,
moved about like ants. A jetty projected into the river.
A blinding sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden
recrudescence of glare. 'There's your Company's sta-
tion,' said the Swede, pointing to three wooden barrack-
like structures on the rocky slope. 'I will send your
things up. Four boxes did you say? So. Farewell.'

"I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then
found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for
the bowlders, and also for an undersized railway-truck
lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One
was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of
some animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying ma-
chinery, a stack of rusty rails. To the left a clump of
trees made a shady spot, where dark things seemed to
stir feebly. I blinked, the path was steep. A horn tooted
to the right, and I saw the black people run. A heavy
and dull detonation shook the ground, a puff of smoke
came out of the cliff, and that was all. No change ap-
peared on the face of the rock. They were building a
railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but
this objectless blasting was all the work going on.

"A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head.
Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path.
They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets
full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with
their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their
loins, and the short ends behind wagged to and fro like
tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs
were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on
his neck, and all were connected together with a chain
whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.
Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly
of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent.
It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men
could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies.
They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like
the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mys-
tery from over the sea. All their meager breasts panted
together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes
stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches,
without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indif-
ference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter
one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at
work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its
middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off,
and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon
to his shoulder with alacrity. This was simple prudence,
white men being so much alike at a distance that he could
not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and
with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his
charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted
trust. After all, I also was a part of the great cause
of these high and just proceedings.

"Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the
left. My idea was to let that chain-gang get out of
sight before I climbed the hill. You know I am not par-
ticularly tender; I've had to strike and to fend off. I've
had to resist and to attack sometimes--that's only one
way of resisting--without counting the exact cost, ac-
cording to the demands of such sort of life as I had blun-
dered into. I've seen the devil of violence, and the devil
of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the
stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that
swayed and drove men--men, I tell you. But as I stood
on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine
of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby,
pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless
folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to
find out several months later and a thousand miles
farther. For a moment I stood appalled, as though by
a warning. Finally I descended the hill, obliquely, to-
wards the trees I had seen.

"I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been
digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it
impossible to divine. It wasn't a quarry or a sandpit,
anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been con-
nected with the philanthropic desire of giving the crim-
inals something to do. I don't know. Then I nearly
fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a
scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported
drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled in
there. There wasn't one that was not broken. It was
a wanton smash-up. At last I got under the trees. My
purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but
no sooner within than it seemed to me I had stepped
into a gloomy circle of some Inferno. The rapids were
near, and an uninterrupted, uniform, headlong, rushing
noise filled the mournful stillness of the grove, where not
a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious
sound--as though the tearing pace of the launched earth
had suddenly become audible.

"Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees,
leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half
coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the
attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another
mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder
of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The
work! And this was the place where some of the helpers
had withdrawn to die.

"They were dying slowly--it was very clear. They
were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were
nothing earthly now,--nothing but black shadows of
disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish
gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all
the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial sur-
roundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, be-
came inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and
rest. These moribund shapes were free as air--and
nearly as thin. I began to distinguish the gleam of eyes
under the trees. Then, glancing down, I saw a face
near my hand. The black bones reclined at full length
with one shoulder against the tree, and slowly the eye-
lids rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me, enormous
and vacant, a kind of blind, white flicker in the depths
of the orbs, which died out slowly. The man seemed
young--almost a boy--but you know with them it's hard
to tell. I found nothing else to do but to offer him one
of my good Swede's ship's biscuits I had in my pocket.
The fingers closed slowly on it and held--there was no
other movement and no other glance. He had tied a bit
of white worsted round his neck--Why? Where did he
get it? Was it a badge--an ornament--a charm--a
propitiatory act? Was there any idea at all connected
with it? It looked startling round his black neck, this
bit of white thread from beyond the seas.

"Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles
sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin
propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intoler-
able and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested
its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and
all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted
collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence.
While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose
to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards
the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat
up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him,
and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breast-
bone.

"I didn't want any more loitering in the shade, and
I made haste towards the station. When near the build-
ings I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance
of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort
of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a
light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear necktie, and
varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled,
under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand.
He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear.

"I shook hands with this miracle, and I learned he was
the Company's chief accountant, and that all the book-
keeping was done at this station. He had come out for
a moment, he said, 'to get a breath of fresh air.' The
expression sounded wonderfully odd, with its suggestion
of sedentary desk-life. I wouldn't have mentioned the
fellow to you at all, only it was from his lips that I
first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly
connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I
respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his
vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was cer-
tainly that of a hairdresser's dummy; but in the great
demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance.
That's backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-
fronts were achievements of character. He had been out
nearly three years; and, later on, I could not help ask-
ing him how he managed to sport such linen. He had
just the faintest blush, and said modestly, 'I've been
teaching one of the native women about the station. It
was difficult. She had a distaste for the work.' This
man had verily accomplished something. And he was
devoted to his books, which were in apple-pie order.

"Everything else in the station was in a muddle,--
heads, things, buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with
splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manu-
factured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire
set into the depths of darkness, and in return came a
precious trickle of ivory.

"I had to wait in the station for ten days--an eternity.
I lived in a hut in the yard, but to be out of the chaos
I would sometimes get into the accountant's office. It
was built of horizontal planks, and so badly put together
that, as he bent over his high desk, he was barred from
neck to heels with narrow strips of sunlight. There was
no need to open the big shutter to see. It was hot
there too; big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting,
but stabbed. I sat generally on the floor, while, of
faultless appearance (and even slightly scented), perch-
ing on a high stool, he wrote, he wrote. Sometimes he
stood up for exercise. When a truckle-bed with a sick
man (some invalided agent from up-country) was put in
there, he exhibited a gentle annoyance. 'The groans of
this sick person,' he said, distract my attention. And
without that it is extremely difficult to guard against
clerical errors in this climate.'

"One day he remarked, without lifting his head, "In
the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.' On my
asking who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a first-class
agent; and seeing my disappointment at this informa-
tion, he added slowly, laying down his pen, 'He is a very
remarkable person.' Further questions elicited from him
that Mr. Kurtz was at present in charge of a trading
post, a very important one, in the true ivory-country,
at 'the very bottom of there. Sends in as much ivory
as all the others put together. . . .' He began to
write again. The sick man was too ill to groan. The
flies buzzed in a great peace.

"Suddenly there was a growing murmur of voices and
a great tramping of feet. A caravan had come in. A
violent babble of uncouth sounds burst out on the other
side of the planks. All the carriers were speaking to-
gether, and in the midst of the uproar the lamentable
voice of the chief agent was heard 'giving it up' tear-
fully for the twentieth time that day. . . . He rose
slowly. 'What a frightful row,' he said. He crossed
the room gently to look at the sick man, and returning,
said to me, 'He does not hear.' 'What! Dead?' I
asked, startled. 'No, not yet,' he answered, with great
composure. Then, alluding with a toss of the head to
the tumult in the station-yard, 'When one has got to
make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages--
hate them to the death.' He remained thoughtful for a
moment. 'When you see Mr. Kurtz,' he went on, 'tell
him from me that everything here'--he glanced at the
desk--'is very satisfactory. I don't like to write to him
--with those messengers of ours you never know who
may get hold of your letter--at that Central Station.'
He stared at me for a moment with his mild, bulging
eyes. 'Oh, he will go far, very far,' he began again.
'He will be a somebody in the Administration before
long. They, above--the Council in Europe, you know
--mean him to be.'

"He turned to his work. The noise outside had ceased,
and presently in going out I stopped at the door. In
the steady buzz of flies the homeward-bound agent was
lying flushed and insensible; the other, bent over his
books, was making correct entries of perfectly correct
transactions; and fifty feet below the doorstep I could
see the still tree-tops of the grove of death.

"Next day I left that station at last, with a caravan
of sixty men, for a two-hundred-mile tramp.

"No use telling you much about that. Paths, paths,
everywhere; a stamped-in network of paths spreading
over the empty land, through long grass, through burnt
grass, through thickets, down and up chilly ravines, up
and down stony hills ablaze with heat; and a solitude,
a solitude, nobody, not a hut. The population had
cleared out a long time ago. Well, if a lot of mysterious
niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons sud-
denly took to traveling on the road between Deal and
Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to carry
heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage
thereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the
dwellings were gone too. Still I passed through several
abandoned villages. There's something pathetically
childish in the ruins of grass walls. Day after day, with
the stamp and shuffle of sixty pair of bare feet behind
me, each pair under a 60-lb. load. Camp, cook, sleep,
strike camp, march. Now and then a carrier dead in
harness, at rest in the long grass near the path, with
an empty water-gourd and his long staff lying by his
side. A great silence around and above. Perhaps on
some quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking,
swelling, a tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing,
suggestive, and wild--and perhaps with as profound a
meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country.
Once a white man in an unbuttoned uniform, camping
on the path with an armed escort of lank Zanzibaris,
very hospitable and festive--not to say drunk. Was
looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can't
say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the body of a
middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the forehead,
upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on,
may be considered as a permanent improvement. I had
a white companion too, not a bad chap, but rather too
fleshy and with the exasperating habit of fainting on
the hot hillsides, miles away from the least bit of shade
and water. Annoying, you know, to hold your own coat
like a parasol over a man's head while he is coming-to.
I couldn't help asking him once what he meant by coming
there at all. 'To make money, of course. What do
you think?' he said, scornfully. Then he got fever, and
had to be carried in a hammock slung under a pole. As
he weighed sixteen stone I had no end of rows with the
carriers. They jibbed, ran away, sneaked off with their
loads in the night--quite a mutiny. So, one evening,
I made a speech in English with gestures, not one of
which was lost to the sixty pairs of eyes before me, and
the next morning I started the hammock off in front all
right. An afterwards I came upon the whole con-
cern wrecked in a bush--man, hammock, groans, blankets,
horrors. The heavy pole had skinned his poor nose. He
was very anxious for me to kill somebody, but there
wasn't the shadow of a carrier near. I remembered the
old doctor,--'It would be interesting for science to
watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot.'
I felt I was becoming scientifically interesting. How-
ever, all that is to no purpose. On the fifteenth day I
came in sight of the big river again, and hobbled into
the Central Station. It was on a back water surrounded
by scrub and forest, with a pretty border of smelly mud
on one side, and on the three others inclosed by a crazy
fence of rushes. A neglected gap was all the gate it
had, and the first glance at the place was enough to let
you see the flabby devil was running that show. White
men with long staves in their hands appeared languidly
from amongst the buildings, strolling up to take a look
at me, and then retired out of sight somewhere. One
of them, a stout, excitable chap with black mustaches,
informed me with great volubility and many digressions,
as soon as I told him who I was, that my steamer was at
the bottom of the river. I was thunderstruck. What,
how, why? Oh, it was 'all right.' The 'manager him-
self' was there. All quite correct. 'Everybody had
behaved splendidly! splendidly!'--'you must,' he said
in agitation, 'go and see the general manager at once.
He is waiting!'

"I did not see the real significance of that wreck at
once. I fancy I see it now, but I am not sure--not at
all. Certainly the affair was too stupid--when I think
of it--to be altogether natural. Still. . . . But at the
moment it presented itself simply as a confounded nui-
sance. The steamer was sunk. They had started two
days before in a sudden hurry up the river with the
manager on board, in charge of some volunteer skipper,
and before they had been out three hours they tore the
bottom out of her on stones, and she sank near the south
bank. I asked myself what I was to do there, now my
boat was lost. As a matter of fact, I had plenty to do
in fishing my command out of the river. I had to set
about it the very next day. That, and the repairs when
I brought the pieces to the station, took some months.

"My first interview with the manager was curious. He
did not ask me to sit down after my twenty-mile walk
that morning. He was commonplace in complexion, in
feature, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle
size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue,
were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could
make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as
an ax. But even at these times the rest of his person
seemed to disclaim the intention. Otherwise there was
only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, some-
thing stealthy--a smile--not a smile--I remember it, but
I can't explain. It was unconscious, this smile was,
though just after he had said something it got intensified
for an instant. It came at the end of his speeches like
a seal applied on the words to make the meaning of the
commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable. He
was a common trader, from his youth up employed in
these parts--nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he in-
spired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He in-
spired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a
definite mistrust--just uneasiness--nothing more. You
have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . fac-
ulty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for
initiative, or for order even. That was evident in such
things as the deplorable state of the station. He had
no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come
to him--why? Perhaps because he was never ill . . .
He had served three terms of three years out there . . .
Because triumphant health in the general rout of con-
stitutions is a kind of power in itself. When he went
home on leave he rioted on a large scale--pompously.
Jack ashore--with a difference--in externals only. This
one could gather from his casual talk. He originated
nothing, he could keep the routine going--that's all.
But he was great. He was great by this little thing that
it was impossible to tell what could control such a man.
He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was
nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause
--for out there there were no external checks. Once
when various tropical diseases had laid low almost every
'agent' in the station, he was heard to say, 'Men who
come out here should have no entrails.' He sealed the
utterance with that smile of his, as though it had been
a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping.
You fancied you had seen things--but the seal was on.
When annoyed at meal-times by the constant quarrels
of the white men about precedence, he ordered an im-
mense round table to be made, for which a special house
had to be built. This was the station's mess-room. Where
he sat was the first place--the rest were nowhere. One
felt this to be his unalterable conviction. He was neither
civil nor uncivil. He was quiet. He allowed his 'boy'
--an overfed young negro from the coast--to treat the
white men, under his very eyes, with provoking insolence.

"He began to speak as soon as he saw me. I had
been very long on the road. He could not wait. Had
to start without me. The up-river stations had to be
relieved. There had been so many delays already that
he did not know who was dead and who was alive, and
how they got on--and so on, and so on. He paid no
attention to my explanations, and, playing with a stick
of sealing-wax, repeated several times that the situation
was 'very grave, very grave.' There were rumors that
a very important station was in jeopardy, and its chief,
Mr. Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not true. Mr. Kurtz
was . . . I felt weary and irritable. Hang Kurtz, I
thought. I interrupted him by saying I had heard of
Mr. Kurtz on the coast. 'Ah! So they talk of him
down there,' he murmured to himself. Then he began
again, assuring me Mr. Kurtz was the best agent he
had, an exceptional man, of the greatest importance to
the Company; therefore I could understand his anxiety.
He was, he said, 'very, very uneasy.' Certainly he
fidget on his chair a good deal, exclaimed, 'Ah, Mr.
Kurtz!' broke the stick of sealing-wax and seemed dumb-
founded by the accident. Next thing he wanted to know
'how long it would take to' . . . I interrupted him
again. Being hungry, you know, and kept on my feet
too, I was getting savage. 'How could I tell,' I said.
'I hadn't even seen the wreck yet--some months, no
doubt.' All this talk seemed to me so futile. 'Some
months,' he said. 'Well, let us say three months before
we can make a start. Yes. That ought to do the affair.'
I flung out of his hut (he lived all alone in a clay hut
with a sort of veranda) muttering to myself my opinion
of him. He was a chattering idiot. Afterwards I took
it back when it was borne in upon me startlingly with
what extreme nicety he had estimated the time requisite
for the 'affair.'

"I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak,
my back on that station. In that way only it seemed
to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of
life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I
saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in
the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what
it all meant. They wandered here and there with their
absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless
pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word
'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You
would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile
rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some
corpse. By Jove! I've never seen anything so unreal
in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surround-
ing this cleared speck on the earth struck me as some-
thing great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting
patiently for the passing away of this fantastic in-
vasion.

"Oh, these months! Well, never mind. Various things
happened. One evening a grass shed full of calico, cotton
prints, beads, and I don't know what else, burst into a
blaze so suddenly that you would have thought the earth
had opened to let an avenging fire consume all that trash.
I was smoking my pipe quietly by my dismantled steamer,
and saw them all cutting capers in the light, with their
arms lifted high, when the stout man with mustaches
came tearing down to the river, a tin pail in his hand,
assured me that everybody was 'behaving splendidly,
splendidly, dipped about a quart of water and tore back
again. I noticed there was a hole in the bottom of his
pail.

"I strolled up. There was no hurry. You see the
thing had gone off like a box of matches. It had been
hopeless from the very first. The flame had leaped high,
driven everybody back, lighted up everything--and col-
lapsed. The shed was already a heap of embers glowing
fiercely. A nigger was being beaten near by. They
said he had caused the fire in some way; be that as it
may, he was screeching most horribly. I saw him, later
on, for several days, sitting in a bit of shade looking
very sick and trying to recover himself: afterwards he
arose and went out--and the wilderness without a sound
took him into its bosom again. As I approached the
glow from the dark I found myself at the back of two
men, talking. I heard the name of Kurtz pronounced,
then the words, 'take advantage of this unfortunate ac-
cident.' One of the men was the manager. I wished
him a good evening. 'Did you ever see anything like
it--eh? it is incredible,' he said, and walked off. The
other man remained. He was a first-class agent, young,
gentlemanly, a bit reserved, with a forked little beard
and a hooked nose. He was stand-offish with the other
agents, and they on their side said he was the manager's
spy upon them. As to me, I had hardly ever spoken to
him before. We got into talk, and by-and-by we strolled
away from the hissing ruins. Then he asked me to his
room, which was in the main building of the station.
He struck a match, and I perceived that this young
aristocrat had not only a silver-mounted dressing-case
but also a whole candle all to himself. Just at that time
the manager was the only man supposed to have any
right to candles. Native mats covered the clay walls;
a collection of spears, assegais, shields, knives was hung
up in trophies. The business intrusted to this fellow
was the making of bricks--so I had been informed; but
there wasn't a fragment of a brick anywhere in the sta-
tion, and he had been there more than a year--waiting.
It seems he could not make bricks without something, I
don't know what--straw maybe. Anyways, it could not
be found there, and as it was not likely to be sent from
Europe, it did not appear clear to me what he was wait-
ing for. An act of special creation perhaps. However,
they were all waiting--all the sixteen or twenty pilgrims
of them--for something; and upon my word it did not
seem an uncongenial occupation, from the way they took
it, though the only thing that ever came to them was
disease--as far as I could see. They beguiled the time
by backbiting and intriguing against each other in a
foolish kind of way. There was an air of plotting about
that station, but nothing came of it, of course. It was
as unreal as everything else--as the philanthropic pre-
tense of the whole concern, as their talk, as their gov-
ernment, as their show of work. The only real feeling
was a desire to get appointed to a trading-post where
ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages.
They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only
on that account,--but as to effectually lifting a little
finger--oh, no. By heavens! there is something after
all in the world allowing one man to steal a horse while
another must not look at a halter. Steal a horse straight
out. Very well. He has done it. Perhaps he can ride.
But there is a way of looking at a halter that would
provoke the most charitable of saints into a kick.

"I had no idea why he wanted to be sociable, but as
we chatted in there it suddenly occurred to me the fel-
low was trying to get at something--in fact, pumping
me. He alluded constantly to Europe, to the people I
was supposed to know there--putting leading questions
as to my acquaintances in the sepulchral city, and so on.
His little eyes glittered like mica discs--with curiosity,
--though he tried to keep up a bit of superciliousness.
At first I was astonished, but very soon I became awfully
curious to see what he would find out from me. I couldn't
possibly imagine what I had in me to make it worth
his while. It was very pretty to see how he baffled him-
self, for in truth my body was full of chills, and my
head had nothing in it but that wretched steamboat busi-
ness. It was evident he took me for a perfectly shame-
less prevaricator. At last he got angry, and to conceal
a movement of furious annoyance, he yawned. I rose.
Then I noticed a small sketch in oils, on a panel, repre-
senting a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a
lighted torch. The background was somber--almost
black. The movement of the woman was stately, and
the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister.

"It arrested me, and he stood by civilly, holding a
half-pint champagne bottle (medical comforts) with the
candle stuck in it. To my question he said Mr. Kurtz
had painted this--in this very station more than a year
ago--while waiting for means to go to his trading-post.

'Tell me, pray,' said I, 'who is this Mr. Kurtz?'

"'The chief of the Inner Station,' he answered in a
short tone, looking away. 'Much obliged,' I said, laugh-
ing. 'And you are the brickmaker of the Central Sta-
tion. Everyone knows that.' He was silent for a while.
'He is a prodigy,' he said at last. 'He is an emissary of
pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows what
else. We want,' he began to declaim suddenly, 'for
the guidance of the cause intrusted to us by Europe, so
to speak, higher intelligence, wide sympathies, a single-
ness of purpose.' 'Who says that?' I asked. 'Lots of
them,' he replied. 'Some even write that; and so HE
comes here, a special being, as you ought to know.' 'Why
ought I to know?' I interrupted, really surprised. He
paid no attention. 'Yes. To-day he is chief of the
best station, next year he will be assistant-manager, two
years more and . . . but I dare say you know what he
will be in two years' time. You are of the new gang--
the gang of virtue. The same people who sent him
specially also recommended you. Oh, don't say no. I've
my own eyes to trust.' Light dawned upon me. My
dear aunt's influential acquaintances were producing an
unexpected effect upon that young man. I nearly burst
into a laugh. 'Do you read the Company's confidential
correspondence?' I asked. He hadn't a word to say. It
was great fun. 'When Mr. Kurtz,' I continued severely,
'is General Manager, you won't have the opportunity.'

"He blew the candle out suddenly, and we went out-
side. The moon had risen. Black figures strolled about
listlessly, pouring water on the glow, whence proceeded
a sound of hissing; steam ascended in the moonlight, the
beaten nigger groaned somewhere. 'What a row the
brute makes!' said the indefatigable man with the mus-
taches, appearing near us. 'Serve him right. Trans-
gression--punishment--bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That's
the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for
the future. I was just telling the manager . . .' He
noticed my companion, and became crestfallen all at once.
'Not in bed yet,' he said, with a kind of servile hearti-
ness; 'it's so natural. Ha! Danger-agitation.' He
vanished. I went on to the river-side, and the other fol-
lowed me. I heard a scathing murmur at my ear, 'Heap
of muffs--go to.' The pilgrims could be seen in knots
gesticulating, discussing. Several had still their staves
in their hands. I verily believe they took these sticks to
bed with them. Beyond the fence the forest stood up
spectrally in the moonlight, and through the dim stir,
through the faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard,
the silence of the land went home to one's very heart,--
its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its con-
cealed life. The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere
near by, and then fetched a deep sigh that made me
mend my pace away from there. I felt a hand intro-
ducing itself under my arm. 'My dear sir,' said the
fellow, 'I don't want to be misunderstood, and especially
by you, who will see Mr. Kurtz long before I can have
that pleasure. I wouldn't like him to get a false idea
of my disposition. . . .'

"I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles,
and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my fore-
finger through him, and would find nothing inside but
a little loose dirt, maybe. He, don't you see, had been
planning to be assistant-manager by-and-by under the
present man, and I could see that the coming of that
Kurtz had upset them both not a little. He talked pre-
cipitately, and I did not try to stop him. I had my
shoulders against the wreck of my steamer, hauled up on
the slope like a carcass of some big river animal. The
smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove! was in my
nostrils, the high stillness of primeval forest was before
my eyes; there were shiny patches on the black creek.
The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of
silver--over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the
wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall
of a temple, over the great river I could see through a
somber gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly
by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant,
mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I won-
dered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity
looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a
menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could
we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I
felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that
couldn't talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was
in there? I could see a little ivory coming out from
there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had
heard enough about it too--God knows! Yet somehow
it didn't bring any image with it--no more than if I
had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I be-
lieved it in the same way one of you might believe there
are inhabitants in the planet Mars. I knew once a Scotch
sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were people
in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they
looked and behaved, he would get shy and mutter some-
thing about 'walking on all-fours.' If you as much
as smiled, he would--though a man of sixty--offer to
fight you. I would not have gone so far as to fight
for Kurtz, but I went for him near enough to a lie. You
know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because
I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because
it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of
mortality in lies,--which is exactly what I hate and
detest in the world--what I want to forget. It makes
me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would
do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough
to it by letting the young fool there believe anything
he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I
became in an instant as much of a pretense as the rest
of the bewitched pilgrims. This simply because I had
a notion it somehow would be of help to that Kurtz whom
at the time I did not see--you understand. He was just
a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any
more than you do. Do you see him? Do you
see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me
I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain at-
tempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the
dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, sur-
prise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt,
that notion of being captured by the incredible which is
of the very essence of dreams. . . ."

He was silent for a while.

". . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey
the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence,
--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and
penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we
dream--alone. . . ."

He paused again as if reflecting, then added--

"Of course in this you fellows see more than I could
then. You see me, whom you know. . . ."

It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could
hardly see one another. For a long time already he,
sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice. There
was not a word from anybody. The others might have
been asleep, but I was awake. I listened, I listened on
the watch for the sentence, for the word, that would give
me the clew to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narra-
tive that seemed to shape itself without human lips in
the heavy night-air of the river.

". . . Yes--I let him run on," Marlow began again,
"and think what he pleased about the powers that were
behind me. I did! And there was nothing behind me!
There was nothing but that wretched, old, mangled
steamboat I was leaning against, while he talked fluently
about 'the necessity for every man to get on.' 'And
when one comes out here, you conceive, it is not to gaze
at the moon.' Mr. Kurtz was a 'universal genius,' but
even a genius would find it easier to work with 'adequate
tools--intelligent men.' He did not make bricks--why,
there was a physical impossibility in the way--as I was
well aware; and if he did secretarial work for the man-
ager, it was because 'no sensible man rejects wantonly
the confidence of his superiors.' Did I see it? I saw it.
What more did I want? What I really wanted was
rivets, by heaven! Rivets. To get on with the work--to
stop the hole. Rivets I wanted. There were cases of
them down at the coast--cases--piled up--burst--split!
You kicked a loose rivet at every second step in that
station yard on the hillside. Rivets had rolled into the
grove of death. You could fill your pockets with rivets
for the trouble of stooping down--and there wasn't one
rivet to be found where it was wanted. We had plates
that would do, but nothing to fasten them with. And
every week the messenger, a lone negro, letter-bag on
shoulder and staff in hand, left our station for the coast.
And several times a week a coast caravan came in with
trade goods,--ghastly glazed calico that made you
shudder only to look at it, glass beads value about a
penny a quart, confounded spotted cotton handkerchiefs.
And no rivets. Three carriers could have brought all
that was wanted to set that steamboat afloat.

"He was becoming confidential now, but I fancy my
unresponsive attitude must have exasperated him at last,
for he judged it necessary to inform me he feared neither
God nor devil, let alone any mere man. I said I could
see that very well, but what I wanted was a certain
quantity of rivets--and rivets were what really Mr.
Kurtz wanted, if he had only known it. Now letters
went to the coast every week. . . . 'My dear sir,' he
cried, 'I write from dictation.' I demanded rivets. There
was a way--for an intelligent man. He changed his
manner; became very cold, and suddenly began to talk
about a hippopotamus; wondered whether sleeping on
board the steamer (I stuck to my salvage night and
day) I wasn't disturbed. There was an old hippo that
had the bad habit of getting out on the bank and roam-
ing at night over the station grounds. The pilgrims
used to turn out in a body and empty every rifle they
could lay hands on at him. Some even had sat up o'
nights for him. All this energy was wasted, though.
'That animal has a charmed life,' he said; 'but you can
say this only of brutes in this country. No man--you
apprehend me?--no man here bears a charmed life.' He
stood there for a moment in the moonlight with his deli-
cate hooked nose set a little askew, and his mica eyes
glittering without a wink, then, with a curt Good night,
he strode off. I could see he was disturbed and consid-
erably puzzled, which made me feel more hopeful than
I had been for days. It was a great comfort to turn
from that chap to my influential friend, the battered,
twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. I clambered on
board. She rang under my feet like an empty Huntley
& Palmer biscuit-tin kicked along a gutter; she was
nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape,
but I had expended enough hard work on her to make
me love her. No influential friend would have served
me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit
--to find out what I could do. No, I don't like work.
I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things
that can be done. I don't like work--no man does
--but I like what is in the work,--the chance to find
yourself. Your own reality--for yourself, not for others
--what no other man can ever know. They can only
see the mere show, and never can tell what it really
means.

"I was not surprised to see somebody sitting aft, on
the deck, with his legs dangling over the mud. You see
I rather chummed with the few mechanics there were in
that station, whom the other pilgrims naturally despised
--on account of their imperfect manners, I suppose.
This was the foreman--a boiler-maker by trade--a good
worker. He was a lank, bony, yellow-faced man, with
big intense eyes. His aspect was worried, and his head
was as bald as the palm of my hand; but his hair in
falling seemed to have stuck to his chin, and had pros-
pered in the new locality, for his beard hung down to
his waist. He was a widower with six young children
(he had left them in charge of a sister of his to come
out there), and the passion of his life was pigeon-flying.
He was an enthusiast and a connoisseur. He would rave
about pigeons. After work hours he used sometimes to
come over from his hut for a talk about his children and
his pigeons; at work, when he had to crawl in the mud
under the bottom of the steamboat, he would tie up that
beard of his in a kind of white serviette he brought for
the purpose. It had loops to go over his ears. In the
evening he could be seen squatted on the bank rinsing
that wrapper in the creek with great care, then spreading
it solemnly on a bush to dry.

"I slapped him on the back and shouted 'We shall have
rivets!' He scrambled to his feet exclaiming 'No!
Rivets!' as though he couldn't believe his ears. Then in
a low voice, 'You . . . eh?' I don't know why we
behaved like lunatics. I put my finger to the side of
my nose and nodded mysteriously. 'Good for you!' he
cried, snapped his fingers above his head, lifting one
foot. I tried a jig. We capered on the iron deck. A
frightful clatter came out of that hulk, and the virgin
forest on the other bank of the creek sent it back in a
thundering roll upon the sleeping station. It must have
made some of the pilgrims sit up in their hovels. A
dark figure obscured the lighted doorway of the man-
ager's hut, vanished, then, a second or so after, the
doorway itself vanished too. We stopped, and the silence
driven away by the stamping of our feet flowed back
again from the recesses of the land. The great wall of
vegetation, an exuberant and entangled mass of trunks,
branches, leaves, boughs, festoons, motionless in the
moonlight, was like a rioting invasion of soundless life,
a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to
topple over the creek, to sweep every little man of us
out of his little existence. And it moved not. A dead-
ened burst of mighty splashes and snorts reached us
from afar, as though an ichthyosaurus had been taking
a bath of glitter in the great river. 'After all,' said the
boiler-maker in a reasonable tone, 'why shouldn't we get
the rivets?' Why not, indeed! I did not know of any
reason why we shouldn't. 'They'll come in three weeks,'
I said confidently.

"But they didn't. Instead of rivets there came an
invasion, an infliction, a visitation. It came in sections
during the next three weeks, each section headed by a
donkey carrying a white man in new clothes and tan
shoes, bowing from that elevation right and left to the
impressed pilgrims. A quarrelsome band of footsore
sulky niggers trod on the heels of the donkeys; a lot of
tents, camp-stools, tin boxes, white cases, brown bales
would be shot down in the courtyard, and the air of
mystery would deepen a little over the muddle of the
station. Five such installments came, with their absurd
air of disorderly flight with the loot of innumerable out-
fit shops and provision stores, that, one would think, they
were lugging, after a raid, into the wilderness for equit-
able division. It was an inextricable mess of things
decent in themselves but that human folly made look
like the spoils of thieving.

"this devoted band called itself the Eldorado Ex-
ploring Expedition, and I believe they were sworn to
secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid
buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy
without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was
not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the
whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these
things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear
treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire,
with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there
is in burglars breaking into a safe. Who paid the ex-
penses of the noble enterprise I don't know; but the
uncle of our manager was leader of that lot.

"In exterior he resembled a butcher in a poor neigh-
borhood, and his eyes had a look of sleepy cunning. He
carried his fat paunch with ostentation on his short legs,
and during the time his gang infested the station spoke
to no one but his nephew. You could see these two roam-
ing about all day long with their heads close together
in an everlasting confab.

"I had given up worrying myself about the rivets.
One's capacity for that kind of folly is more limited
than you would suppose. I said Hang!--and let things
slide. I had plenty of time for meditation, and now
and then I would give some thought to Kurtz. I wasn't
very interested in him. No. Still, I was curious to see
whether this man, who had come out equipped with moral
ideas of some sort, would climb to the top after all, and
how he would set about his work when there."


II


"One evening as I was lying flat on the deck of my
steamboat, I heard voices approaching--and there were
the nephew and the uncle strolling along the bank. I
laid my head on my arm again, and had nearly lost
myself in a doze, when somebody said in my ear, as it
were: 'I am as harmless as a little child, but I don't like
to be dictated to. Am I the manager--or am I not? I
was ordered to send him there. It's incredible.' . . .
I became aware that the two were standing on the shore
alongside the forepart of the steamboat, just below my
head. I did not move; it did not occur to me to move: I
was sleepy. 'It IS unpleasant,' grunted the uncle. 'He
has asked the Administration to be sent there,' said the
other, 'with the idea of showing what he could do; and
I was instructed accordingly. Look at the influence that
man must have. Is it not frightful?' They both agreed
it was frightful, then made several bizarre remarks:
'Make rain and fine weather--one man--the Council--
by the nose'--bits of absurd sentences that got the
better of my drowsiness, so that I had pretty near the
whole of my wits about me when the uncle said, 'The
climate may do away with this difficulty for you. Is he
alone there?' 'Yes,' answered the manager; 'he sent
his assistant down the river with a note to me in these
terms: "Clear this poor devil out of the country, and
don't bother sending more of that sort. I had rather
be alone than have the kind of men you can dispose of
with me." It was more than a year ago. Can you
imagine such impudence!' 'Anything since then?'
asked the other, hoarsely. 'Ivory,' jerked the nephew;
'lots of it--prime sort--lots--most annoying, from
him.' 'And with that?' questioned the heavy rumble.
'Invoice,' was the reply fired out, so to speak. Then
silence. They had been talking about Kurtz.

"I was broad awake by this time, but, lying perfectly
at ease, remained still, having no inducement to change
my position. 'How did that ivory come all this way?'
growled the elder man, who seemed very vexed. The
other explained that it had come with a fleet of canoes in
charge of an English half-caste clerk Kurtz had with
him; that Kurtz had apparently intended to return him-
self, the station being by that time bare of goods and
stores, but after coming three hundred miles, had sud-
denly decided to go back, which he started to do alone
in a small dug-out with four paddlers, leaving the half-
caste to continue down the river with the ivory. The two
fellows there seemed astounded at anybody attempting
such a thing. They were at a loss for an adequate mo-
tive. As to me, I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time.
It was a distinct glimpse: the dug-out, four paddling
savages, and the lone white man turning his back sud-
denly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of
home--perhaps; setting his face towards the depths of
the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station.
I did not know the motive. Perhaps he was just simply
a fine fellow who stuck to his work for its own sake. His
name, you understand, had not been pronounced once.
He was 'that man.' The half-caste, who, as far as I
could see, had conducted a difficult trip with great pru-
dence and pluck, was invariably alluded to as 'that
scoundrel.' The 'scoundrel' had reported that the
'man' had been very ill--had recovered imperfectly.
. . . The two below me moved away then a few paces,
and strolled back and forth at some little distance. I
heard: 'Military post--doctor--two hundred miles--
quite alone now--unavoidable delays--nine months--no
news--strange rumors.' They approached again, just
as the manager was saying, 'No one, as far as I know,
unless a species of wandering trader--a pestilential fel-
low, snapping ivory from the natives.' Who was it they
were talking about now? I gathered in snatches that
this was some man supposed to be in Kurtz's district, and
of whom the manager did not approve. 'We will not be
free from unfair competition till one of these fellows is
hanged for an example,' he said. 'Certainly,' grunted
the other; 'get him hanged! Why not? Anything--
anything can be done in this country. That's what I
say; nobody here, you understand, HERE, can endanger
your position. And why? You stand the climate--you
outlast them all. The danger is in Europe; but there
before I left I took care to--' They moved off and
whispered, then their voices rose again. 'The extraor-
dinary series of delays is not my fault. I did my
possible.' The fat man sighed, 'Very sad.' 'And the
pestiferous absurdity of his talk,' continued the other;
'he bothered me enough when he was here. "Each
station should be like a beacon on the road towards better
things, a center for trade of course, but also for human-
izing, improving, instructing." Conceive you--that ass!
And he wants to be manager! No, it's--' Here he
got choked by excessive indignation, and I lifted my
head the least bit. I was surprised to see how near they
were--right under me. I could have spat upon their
hats. They were looking on the ground, absorbed in
thought. The manager was switching his leg with a
slender twig: his sagacious relative lifted his head. 'You
have been well since you came out this time?' he asked.
The other gave a start. 'Who? I? Oh! Like a charm
--like a charm. But the rest--oh, my goodness! All
sick. They die so quick, too, that I haven't the time
to send them out of the country--it's incredible!' 'H'm.
Just so,' grunted the uncle. 'Ah! my boy, trust to this
--I say, trust to this.' I saw him extend his short flipper
of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the
creek, the mud, the river,--seemed to beckon with a dis-
honoring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a
treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden
evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so
startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at
the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an
answer of some sort to that black display of confidence.
You know the foolish notions that come to one some-
times. The high stillness confronted these two figures
with its ominous patience, waiting for the passing away
of a fantastic invasion.

"They swore aloud together--out of sheer fright, I
believe--then pretending not to know anything of my
existence, turned back to the station. The sun was low;
and leaning forward side by side, they seemed to be
tugging painfully uphill their two ridiculous shadows
of unequal length, that trailed behind them slowly over
the tall grass without bending a single blade.

"In a few days the Eldorado Expedition went into the
patient wilderness, that closed upon it as the sea closes
over a diver. Long afterwards the news came that all
the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of
the less valuable animals. They, no doubt, like the rest
of us, found what they deserved. I did not inquire. I
was then rather excited at the prospect of meeting Kurtz
very soon. When I say very soon I mean it compara-
tively. It was just two months from the day we left
the creek when we came to the bank below Kurtz's sta-
tion.

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the
earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted
on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty
stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air
was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy
in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the
waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of over-
shadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and
alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broaden-
ing waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you
lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and
butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the
channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut
off for ever from everything you had known once--some
where--far away--in another existence perhaps. There
were moments when one's past came back to one, as it
will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare
to yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful
and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the
overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants,
and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did
not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of
an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable inten-
tion. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect. I got
used to it afterwards; I did not see it any more; I had
no time. I had to keep guessing at the channel; I had
to discern, mostly by inspiration, the signs of hidden
banks; I watched for sunken stones; I was learning to
clap my teeth smartly before my heart flew out, when
I shaved by a fluke some infernal sly old snag that would
have ripped the life out of the tin-pot steamboat and
drowned all the pilgrims; I had to keep a look-out for
the signs of dead wood we could cut up in the night for
next day's steaming. When you have to attend to
things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the sur-
face, the reality--the reality, I tell you--fades. The
inner truth is hidden--luckily, luckily. But I felt it
all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching
me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows
performing on your respective tight-ropes for--what is
it? half-a-crown a tumble--"

"Try to be civil, Marlow," growled a voice, and I
knew there was at least one listener awake besides my-
self.

"I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which
makes up the rest of the price. And indeed what does
the price matter, if the trick be well done? You do
your tricks very well. And I didn't do badly either,
since I managed not to sink that steamboat on my first
trip. It's a wonder to me yet. Imagine a blindfolded
man set to drive a van over a bad road. I sweated and
shivered over that business considerably, I can tell you.
After all, for a seaman, to scrape the bottom of the thing
that's supposed to float all the time under his care is
the unpardonable sin. No one may know of it, but you
never forget the thump--eh? A blow on the very heart.
You remember it, you dream of it, you wake up at night
and think of it--years after--and go hot and cold all
over. I don't pretend to say that steamboat floated all
the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit,
with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing.
We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a
crew. Fine fellows--cannibals--in their place. They
were men one could work with, and I am grateful to
them. And, after all, they did not each other before
my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo-
meat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the
wilderness stink in my nostrils. Phoo! I can sniff it
now. I had the manager on board and three or four
pilgrims with their staves--all complete. Sometimes we
came upon a station close by the bank, clinging to the
skirts of the unknown, and the white men rushing out
of a tumble-down hovel, with great gestures of joy and
surprise and welcome, seemed very strange,--had the ap-
pearance of being held there captive by a spell. The word
ivory would ring in the air for a while--and on we went
again into the silence, along empty reaches, round the
still bends, between the high walls of our winding way,
reverberating in hollow claps the ponderous beat of the
stern-wheel. Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive,
immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging
the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed
steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor
of a lofty portico. It made you feel very small, very
lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing that feel-
ing. After all, if you were small, the grimy beetle
crawled on--which was just what you wanted it to do.
Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled to I don't know.
To some place where they expected to get something, I
bet! For me it crawled toward Kurtz--exclusively; but
when the steam-pipes started leaking we crawled very
slow. The reaches opened before us and closed behind,
as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water
to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper
and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet
there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the
curtain of trees would run up the river and remain
sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our
heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war,
peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were
heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-
cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of
a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on
a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect
of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves
the first of men taking possession of an accursed in-
heritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish
and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled
round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls,
of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black
limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of
bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy
and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly
on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The
prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, wel-
coming us--who could tell? We were cut off from the
comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like
phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men
would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse.
We could not understand, because we were too far and
could not remember, because we were traveling in the
night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving
hardly a sign--and no memories.

"The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to
look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but
there--there you could look at a thing monstrous and
free. It was unearthly, and the men were-- No, they
were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst
of it--this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It
would come slowly to one. They howled, and leaped, and
spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was
just the thought of their humanity--like yours--the
thought of your remote kinship with this wild and pas-
sionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but
if you were man enough you would admit to yourself
that there was in you just the faintest trace of a re-
sponse to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim
suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you--
you so remote from the night of first ages--could com-
prehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable
of anything--because everything is in it, all the past
as well as all the future. What was there after all?
Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valor, rage--who can tell?
--but truth--truth stripped of its cloak of time. Let
the fool gape and shudder--the man knows, and can
look on without a wink. But he must at least be as
much of a man as these on the shore. He must meet
that truth with his own true stuff--with his own inborn
strength. Principles? Principles won't do. Acquisi-
tions, clothes, pretty rags--rags that would fly off at
the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief.
An appeal to me in this fiendish row--is there? Very
well; I hear; I admit, but I have a voice too, and for
good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced.
Of course, a fool, what with sheer fright and fine senti-
ments, is always safe. Who's that grunting? You
wonder I didn't go ashore for a howl and a dance? Well,
no--I didn't. Fine sentiments, you say? Fine senti-
ments, be hanged! I had no time. I had to mess about
with white-lead and strips of woolen blanket helping
to put bandages on those leaky steam-pipes--I tell you.
I had to watch the steering, and circumvent those snags,
and get the tin-pot along by hook or by crook. There
was surface-truth enough in these things to save a wiser
man. And between whiles I had to look after the savage
who was fireman. He was an improved specimen; he
could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me,
and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as
seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat,
walking on his hind-legs. A few months of training had
done for that really fine chap. He squinted at the
steam-gauge and at the water-gauge with an evident
effort of intrepidity--and he had filed teeth too, the
poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer
patterns, and three ornamental scars on each of his
cheeks. He ought to have been clapping his hands and
stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was
hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of
improving knowledge. He was useful because he had
been instructed; and what he knew was this--that should
the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil
spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the
greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance.
So he sweated and fired up and watched the glass fear-
fully (with an impromptu charm, made of rags, tied to
his arm, and a piece of polished bone, as big as a watch,
stuck flatways through his lower lip), while the wooded
banks slipped past us slowly, the short noise was left
behind, the interminable miles of silence--and we crept
on, towards Kurtz. But the snags were thick, the water
was treacherous and shallow, the boiler seemed indeed
to have a sulky devil in it, and thus neither that fire-
man nor I had any time to peer into our creepy thoughts.

"Some fifty miles below the Inner Station we came
upon a hut of reeds, an inclined and melancholy pole,
with the unrecognizable tatters of what had been a flag
of some sort flying from it, and a neatly stacked wood-
pile. This was unexpected. We came to the bank, and
on the stack of firewood found a flat piece of board with
some faded pencil-writing on it. When deciphered it
said: 'Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.'
There was a signature, but it was illegible--not Kurtz
--a much longer word. Hurry up. Where? Up the
river? 'Approach cautiously.' We had not done so.
But the warning could not have been meant for the place
where it could be only found after approach. Some-
thing was wrong above. But what--and how much?
That was the question. We commented adversely upon
the imbecility of that telegraphic style. The bush around
said nothing, and would not let us look very far, either.
A torn curtain of red twill hung in the doorway of the
hut, and flapped sadly in our faces. The dwelling was
dismantled; but we could see a white man had lived
there not very long ago. There remained a rude table
--a plank on two posts; a heap of rubbish reposed in a
dark corner, and by the door I picked up a book. It
had lost its covers, and the pages had been thumbed into
a state of extremely dirty softness; but the back had been
lovingly stitched afresh with white cotton thread, which
looked clean yet. It was an extraordinary find. Its title
was, 'An Inquiry into some Points of Seamanship,' by a
man Tower, Towson--some such name--Master in his
Majesty's Navy. The matter looked dreary reading
enough, with illustrative diagrams and repulsive tables of
figures, and the copy was sixty years old. I handled this
amazing antiquity with the greatest possible tenderness,
lest it should dissolve in my hands. Within, Towson or
Towser was inquiring earnestly into the breaking strain
of ships' chains and tackle, and other such matters. Not
a very enthralling book; but at the first glance you
could see there a singleness of intention, an honest con-
cern for the right way of going to work, which made
these humble pages, thought out so many years ago,
luminous with another than a professional light. The
simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases,
made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious
sensation of having come upon something unmistakably
real. Such a book being there was wonderful enough;
but still more astounding were the notes penciled in the
margin, and plainly referring to the text. I couldn't
believe my eyes! They were in cipher! Yes, it looked
like cipher. Fancy a man lugging with him a book of
that description into this nowhere and studying it--
and making notes--in cipher at that! It was an ex-
travagant mystery.

"I had been dimly aware for some time of a worrying
noise, and when I lifted my eyes I saw the wood-pile
was gone, and the manager, aided by all the pilgrims,
was shouting at me from the river-side. I slipped the
book into my pocket. I assure you to leave off reading
was like tearing myself away from the shelter of an old
and solid friendship.

"I started the lame engine ahead. 'It must be this
miserable trader--this intruder,' exclaimed the manager,
looking back malevolently at the place we had left. 'He
must be English,' I said. 'It will not save him from
getting into trouble if he is not careful,' muttered the
manager darkly. I observed with assumed innocence that
no man was safe from trouble in this world.

"The current was more rapid now, the steamer seemed
at her last gasp, the stern-wheel flopped languidly, and
I caught myself listening on tiptoe for the next beat of
the float, for in sober truth I expected the wretched thing
to give up every moment. It was like watching the last
flickers of a life. But still we crawled. Sometimes I
would pick out a tree a little way ahead to measure our
progress towards Kurtz by, but I lost it invariably be-
fore we got abreast. To keep the eyes so long on one
thing was too much for human patience. The manager
displayed a beautiful resignation. I fretted and fumed
and took to arguing with myself whether or no I would
talk openly with Kurtz; but before I could come to any
conclusion it occurred to me that my speech or my silence,
indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility.
What did it matter what anyone knew or ignored? What
did it matter who was manager? One gets sometimes
such a flash of insight. The essentials of this affair lay


 


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